He Is Wrath

Wrath of Man

by Hope Madden

I’m not saying Jason Statham is unconvincing with a gun. Nor am I saying that Guy Ritchie is ill-suited to direct a humorless vengeance drama.

I’m just saying that these are not their strong suits.

Wrath of Man shadows a very dour Statham—just call him H, like the bomb—as he begins training for his new gig with a cash truck crew.

Something’s up, obviously, and the only fun to be had in the film is trying to figure out what it is, so do not watch the trailer.

At The Depot, where all the trucks come and go and all the crew mock and belittle one another, we meet the assortment of characters you will not come to know or care about: Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett – where have you been?), Dana (Niamh Algar), Bullet (Holt McCallany). All of them choking on ludicrously overwritten banter, none of them drawing even a single compelling character.

Which is fine because there are at least 16 more people you won’t get to know, won’t care if they’re killed, won’t be invested in their conflicts.

Ritchie is usually much better than this at scattershot introductions of oddball lowlife clusters, each pod with its own story, each story intersection every other story at one turn or another. Maybe he’s just too out of his element setting the action in LA rather than his beloved London, but the lived-in feel of a reprobate world that’s usually a high point to a Ritchie flick is sorely missing here.

And what is the deal with these accents? By now, we know better than to expect Statham to attempt a yank accent, but what exactly is Eddie Marsan’s nationality supposed to be? Or Andy Garcia’s, for that matter?

Hell if I know. I do know that casting Statham generally guarantees some nifty fisticuffs.

Not today!

He shoots a bunch of people, sure, but there’s no panache to anything. It’s a heist movie without the meticulous execution, a vengeance thriller with no emotional connection to the villain, a Statham movie with no ass kicking, and a Ritchie movie with no humor, no flash, no style.

No thank you.   

You Got Some Explaining to Do!

Oh, Lucy!

by George Wolf

For her feature debut, writer/director Atsuko Hirayanagi expands her captivating short from three years ago, which left “Lucy” at a crossroads of self-discovery.

Hirayanagi also fulfills all the promise from that earlier work, taking a cross-cultural comedic premise and layering it with heartbreak, desperation, silliness and hope.

“Lucy” is actually Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), an unmarried office worker in Tokyo barely on speaking terms with her sister Ayako (Kaho Minami). But Setsuko is friendly with Ayako’s daughter Mika (Shioli Kutsuna), and agrees to help her out with some cash by buying Mika’s unused English lessons.

The class is taught by John (Josh Harnett), who’s a bit of a hugger and big on new identities to pair with the new language his students are learning. Setsuko gets “Lucy” and a blonde wig.

She’s intrigued, and then confused, as John suddenly quits the class and heads back to the states – with Mika.

Hirayanagi’s writing, pace and camerawork are steady and assured, as she confidently fleshes out the story her short film hinted at so smartly. There’s plenty of humor in the film, but never at the expense of a uniquely human core that’s driven by Terajima’s marvelous lead performance.

There is pain in Lucy’s past, and she’s become a soul that’s merely existing, always longing for connection. Learning a new way to communicate awakens something within her, where a race toward the unknown offers the chance of a new life beyond fake names and wigs.

Part character study, part social commentary, and part absurdist comedy, Oh, Lucy! is sneaky in the ways it touches you. Light and breezy on the outside, it’s a film with a joyful heart that can’t be denied.

 





Young Turks

The Ottoman Lieutenant

by Hope Madden

With an almost offensively naïve – or more likely, revisionist – sense of history surrounding an entirely anachronistic amount of gumption, The Ottoman Lieutenant is the third historical romance to hit theaters in as many weeks.

And the weakest.

The lovely A United Kingdom struggled to find an authentic voice for the true story of Seretse and Ruth Khama’s love. Bitter Harvest, on the other hand, lacked the focus to use its love story to articulate the horrors of war.

Both films made a valiant effort to shine a light on a historical period. The Ottoman Lieutenant separates itself from the pack primarily with its open attempt to rewrite history, to make it more noble, palatable and romantic.

Lillie Rowe (Hera Hilmar) is a young woman of privilege. She’s also an American with a thick Icelandic accent, but no matter. Lillie spurns her stuffy 1914 Philadelphian upbringing in in favor of mission work in Anatolia, thanks to a cardboard-stiff speech given by mission doctor Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett).

Once there, as Dr. Gresham falls in love with Lillie, she’s busy falling for Lieutenant Ismael Veli (Michiel Huisman) who, luckily, speaks English – as do all Turks in the film, even when they’re talking amongst themselves. How convenient!

Armenians – a population all but wiped from existence one year later – figure minutely in this soft focus clash between Muslims and Christians. But why tell their story just because your film is set in their backyard on the eve of their genocide? The important thing to understand is that, in war, everyone is wrong and only love is right.

That’s the gallingly simple outlook of the nurse with the tousled hair whose cloying voiceover tells us everything and nothing, simultaneously.

Though Joseph Ruben’s direction can never transcend Jeff Stockwell’s historically vacuous screenplay, the film often looks quite lovely. As does Hilmar, which is great as she is never called upon to act. She poses really well, though, and never laughs no matter how precious the dialog. Plus, Lillie has so many great hats!

It’s almost a shame Ben Kingsley shows up when he does because, even saddled as he is with this one-dimensional stereotype of a character, Ben Kingsley can act. His talent only exposes the balance of the cast for the posers (and poseurs) they are.

The Ottoman Lieutenant offers a lot of easily won wisdom and quick solutions – and hats. None of these strike me as items abounding during a time of war, but stark reality is not the goal of the film.

What the point is, I couldn’t tell you.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Halloween Countdown, Day 26

30 Days of Night (2007)

If vampires can only come out at night, wouldn’t it make sense for them to head to the parts of the globe that remain under cover of darkness for weeks on end? Sure it would. And, given that those particular spots tend to be frozen death traps to begin with, more to love about this particular icy bloodsucking adventure!

The first potential downfall here is that Josh Hartnett plays our lead, the small town arctic sheriff whose burg goes haywire just after the last flight for a month leaves town. A drifter blows into town (Ben Foster – a bit over the top, but always a welcome sight) – and this is a town that sees a lot more snowmen than drifters. Dogs die viciously. Vehicles are disabled. Power is disrupted. You know what that means…the hunt’s begun.

Hartnett, a characteristically weak actor, holds up OK upon the frozen tundra. He’s asked to guide us through the action and little more, which is as it should be. Director David Slade keeps the pace quick and the action mean.

Much of his success is due to the always spectacular Danny Huston as the leader of the bloodsuckers. His whole gang takes a novel, unwholesome approach to the idea of vampire, and it works marvelously.

Slade cheats several times, like every time Hartnett’s chased by a vampire. One cut, they’re right behind him, the next cut, he’s hiding successfully beside some barn. What the…?

Still, Slade builds the pervasive feeling of being cornered with no way out, and more than once, the baddies employ rather ruthless measures to flush out those in hiding.

THE SCENE:

A pod of survivors hides in an attic, careful not to make any noise or draw any attention to themselves. One old man has dementia, which generates a lot of tension in the group, since he’s hard to contain and keep quiet.

There’s no knowing whether the town has any other survivors, and some of these guys are getting itchy. Then they hear a small voice outside.

Walking and sobbing down the main drag is a little girl, crying for help. It’s as pathetic a scene as any in such a film, and it may be the first moment in the picture where you identify with the trapped, who must do the unthinkable. Because, what would you do?

As the would-be heroes in the attic begin to understand this ploy, the camera on the street pulls back to show Danny Huston and crew perched atop the nearby buildings. The sobbing tot amounts to the worm on their reel.

Creepy business!